Grieving mother is told to stop talking about her dead child at workby Joanna Corrig, theunhivedmind.com
September 5th 2011
Grieving mother is told to stop talking about her dead child at work because it’s distracting
A grieving mother who sued her employer after she was told she had to remove pictures of her dead daughter from her office space has lost her court case.
Cecelia Ingraham sued Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical after her boss said she could no longer talk about daughter Tatiana, who died from leukemia.
She was told her colleagues were ‘uncomfortable’ with her tendency to discuss the tragedy and that she was causing a ‘disruption’.
Ms Ingraham sued for emotional distress and constructive discharge but the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, found for the company.
Ms Ingraham had worked for the firm for 12 years and by 2006, she was an administrative assistant in a marketing department.
Her only child Tatiana had been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 2003.
She initially fought off the disease and went into remission but it returned in 2005 and she died in May that year.
Ms Ingraham was devastated and kept pictures of her daughter and her ballet slippers displayed in her cubicle at work.
One-and-a-half years after Tatiana died, a human resources manager told Ms Ingraham’s boss he had received complaints about her conduct and interaction with other workers. She sued Ortho-McNeil and an HR manager for intentional infliction of emotional distress, constructive discharge and discrimination.
Carl DeStefanis then held a meeting with the assistant, allegedly telling her she was making her colleagues ‘uncomfortable’, according to website leagle.com.
They had reported being at a loss for ‘what else that we can say that we have not said already’ and said they had resorted to avoiding her.
Ms Ingraham was allegedly told to remove her daughter’s pictures because they were a ‘disruption’ and to stop talking about Tatiana ‘because she is dead’.
‘If courts had to preside over every instance of rude and thoughtless boss behaviour, they’d never have time to consider any other kinds of cases.’
Judge Victor Ashrafi
She is said to have asked Mr DeStefanis if he was telling her to act ‘ as if she [Tatiana] did not exist’. He replied: ‘Yes’.
He apparently said: ‘If you have the need or urge to talk about her you can come into my office and speak of her behind closed doors.’
Ms Ingraham left work sobbing and never went back. She later went to her cardiologist with heart palpitations and had to have angioplasty. This led to short-term disability leave and eventually she resigned.
She then filed a law suit against Ortho-McNeil and Mr DeStefanis for intentional infliction of emotional distress, constructive dischage and discrimination.
She lost the case because the court held she had not shown Mr DeStefanis intended to cause her distress and had acted extremelya nd outrageously.
She had to show that Mr DeStefanis had intended to cause her distress or been reckless as to whether he was doing so and acted extremely and outrageously
The judgment said: ‘There is no question that any reasonable employer should know that telling a grieving mother not to talk about her deceased daughter might cause emotional distress but a severe reaction was not a risk that one should predict.’
Judge Victor Ashrafi wrote: ‘The workplace has too many personal conflicts and too much behaviour that might be perceived as uncivil for the courts to be used as the umpire for all but the most extreme workplace disputes.
‘It’s true that if courts had to preside over every instance of rude and thoughtless boss behaviour, they’d never have time to consider any other kinds of cases.
‘For this reason, courts tend to set a pretty high bar when it comes to determining that behaviour is “extreme”.’
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